BAT reference documents - a backgrounder

Environmentally significant industry sectors queue up for best practice emission guidelines

Completion of the first two "brefs" under the 1996 EU directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (see separate article) marks a key development in a process that will dominate the pollution control debate for environmentally significant industry sectors in the EU over the next few years. Another 30 similar documents covering a slightly smaller number of industries are going through the same process as the cement and iron and steel sectors.

Brefs - or best available technology reference documents - are critical elements of the EU's strategy for pushing further environmental advances in industry. The integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) directive stipulates that all scheduled industries will have to use best available techniques (BAT) to control environmental impacts by 2007 at the latest. Brefs set out in detail what BAT will be for different industries.

Under the directive, BAT is defined as the most "effective and advanced" technologies and practices to prevent or, where this is not possible, to reduce emissions. The word "available" in BAT is further defined as techniques that are "economically and technically viable".

The work of turning this dry wording into practical meaning for each industrial sector affected by the directive is being coordinated by the European IPPC bureau in Seville and will result in brefs setting out what plants will be expected to achieve by 2007.

Brefs are not legally binding, but national authorities will have to take them into account when issuing environmental permits to industry. How far governments will stick to the letter of bref documents is expected to be an "extremely political" area, according to informed sources.

Governments are expected either to insist that all companies uniformly follow all recommendations in the Brefs or use them as a "palette" for flexible, differentiated implementation at different installations according to local conditions. The former would be likely to have harsh consequences for poorly performing plants, but the latter could encourage best performers to extend their lead.

Each bref is taking around three years to complete, based on discussions in groups comprising EU member state officials, industry and NGO representatives. The drafting process is a delicate balance between the views of the three different contingents, which has led to tensions. Environmental groups have criticised what they see as a process overly dominated by industry. Member states are also reported to have objected to some brefs as being over-ambitious. According to a source, one country said it would "agree to anything" on one particular bref, because it was "not going to use or enforce it."

Follow Up:
European IPPC bureau, tel: +34 95 448 8284.

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